I was reading an article this past weekend about the American Bible Society and a survey they conducted (via the Barna Research Group) as to which American cities are the most, or least, “Bible-minded”. The rationale given for the survey was that “Knowing the Bible landscape across the U.S. is key to helping people engage with the most-translated, best-selling book of all time.” Here is the link to that ABS press release.
As it turns out Knoxville TN is the most Bible-minded city and Providence RI is the least Bible-minded. The article failed to point out the irony that a city named Providence is not very Bible-minded. My home area, Raleigh/Durham, made it into the top 25 of the “most” cities, which didn’t surprise me. The area where I was born, New York, was well into the lower half but ranked somewhat higher than I might have guessed.
I’d been pondering what to make of the list for a while when yesterday I heard a right-wing, religiously conservative commentator talking about it. Because I heard it, not read it, I can’t be sure the following is an exact quote but the essence of his comment is as follows:
This is important because we all want to live with people who share our values, with people who think like us. If a crisis comes we want be around people we can count on. If you are a Christian deciding whether you want to take that job in Knoxville or the one in Providence this gives you clear guidance.
Am I the only one who is uneasy with that advice? Is that what we should be thinking? Where can I find people who are just like me? Frankly, if our goal is to be around “people who think just like us” wouldn’t we be better to build our own little Christian-only city and make sure that everybody in it thinks like us?
The article, and the reaction above, touches on a real issue we all have. On the one hand, I understand my missional calling. I am in the world but not of it. I am challenged by our Lord to go into all the world. I want to be part of the mission to seek and save those who are lost. I have this gnawing uneasiness that I shouldn’t sit here in one of the “most” cities when there are so few trying to reach the “least.”
On the other hand, I am the most comfortable when I am around fellow-believers. I enjoy their company and am challenged by their faithfulness. It is very nice to be with “people who think like” me. I get in a good Bible study and can understand Peter on the Mount of the Transfiguration wanting to build some tents to stay there. My years in mission tell me that things are not easy when I am surrounded by folks who do not share my beliefs.
I can’t help but think that the thing that drives us to create our little Christian communities, that makes us want to live with the Bible-minded, is a longing for heaven. Consciously or unconsciously we yearn for the day when we will praise God forever in the company of all the saints. As such we tend to try and create mini-heavens here on earth. Some call them Christian ghettos.
This is not a guilt-inducing call for all of us to pack our bags and move to Providence in the name of Jesus. Some may be called to that but not very many. Rather, my need is to recognize that, no matter how hard I try, I can never build a mini-heaven; to recognize that while the longing to do so is real and understandable I will never succeed in doing it and shouldn’t try. Perhaps the question I need to ask God is this:
Lord, show me my Providence.